Honor the power of your voice and begin your journey with us today!
Honor the power of your voice and begin your journey with us today!

The Ultimate Guide To Making Decisions in Early Recovery: The AC²E Method


Drug addiction is a chronic behavioral disorder that “impacts brain chemistry and circuitry and results in compulsive drug-seeking and drug-using behaviors that interfere with daily functioning. A high level of drug dependency, co-occuring medical or mental health disorders, polydrug abuse, family history of addiction, high levels of stress, experience of trauma, and low level of support at home can all contribute to the onset of addiction” (American Society of Addiction Medicine). No matter the circumstances, recovery from drug addiction is possible.
Sometimes making decisions is hard to do, but it is especially hard to make decisions in early recovery from drugs or alcohol. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health in 2014 (NSDUH), one in ten American adults had used an illicit drug in the previous month. Having a drug addiction has a massive impact on cognitive functioning and your body’s physical functioning. While in early recovery, your brain and body are recovering from the impact of drugs, just like you are. The period of early recovery is represented by your brain and body readjusting to a normal state (a state without drugs). As you’re in a vulnerable state in drug addiction recovery, making decisions can be impactful, which is why Royal Life Centers put together this ultimate guide to making decisions in early recovery using our fool-proof AC²E Method:

Addiction’s Effect on the Brain

Drug addiction will cause a chemical imbalance in the brain. The brain adapts to functioning differently during active addiction, because it’s used to having drugs in the system. Because addiction changes the brain’s chemistry, it also impairs its functioning. According to the American Addiction Centers, “Drugs can hijack the regular functions of these important brain chemicals, disrupt their communication, and inhibit the way they are supposed to perform.” In active drug addiction, the frontal cortex has less activity— which is the part of the brain associated with judgment and decision-making. This lesser activity in the frontal cortex results in the impulsive decision-making that’s associated with addiction.
Addictive drugs also release two to ten times the amount of dopamine in the rewards center of the brain than what natural rewards release— causing a deficit of dopamine once drugs are out from the system. The neurotransmitter dopamine is used to send signals of pleasure, or rewards, in addition to being involved with learning, memory, formation, movement, and coordination. Dopamine levels in the brain will return to nearly normal after 14 months of abstinence from drugs.
Different drugs will have different effects on the brain and body, some effects may include permanent damage— however, most damage is reversible. The brain and body will repair itself the longer you are in sobriety. Substance abuse is best treated through a range of addiction treatment programs. Healing the brain and body is assisted through individual therapy, behavioral therapies, group therapy, and other therapeutic methods. Through out early recovery, your brain and body will begin to repair themselves.

Neurotransmitters and Drug Addiction

Neurotransmitters play a crucial role in normal functioning of the brain and body, including: mood regulation, movement and coordination, appetite, autonomic functions of the central nervous system, the ability to think clearly and make sound decisions, stress levels, memory and learning, sexual desire, sensory perception, motivation, concentration levels, cognition, feelings of pleasure, and processing rewards (American Addiction Centers).
Many neurotransmitters in the brain are affected by drug use, here is a breakdown of some of the major neurotransmitters affected:
Dopamine— pleasure, rewards
Serotonin— mood stabilizer, impacts mood, sexual desire, sleep, appetite levels
Glutamate— increases neuron activity, involved in learning, memory, and cognitive function
Gamma-aminobutyric acid— lowers stress and anxiety by slowing down heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature; acts like a natural tranquilizer
Norepinephrine— similar to adrenaline (activates the fight-or-flight stress response), speeds up heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration; increases body temperature while impacting movement, anxiety levels, sleep, moods, appetite levels, memory functions, and sensory processing abilities
Endorphins and endogenous opioid peptide system— naturally activate opioid receptors in the brain to slow central nervous system functions, impact mood, and have a sedative and analgesic (painkilling) effect
Endogenous cannabinoids— natural system in the brain that impacts memory, cognitive functions, and movement
(American Addiction Centers).

How To Heal

The brain and body will begin to heal themselves slowly, but a comprehensive addiction treatment program will greatly assist the healing process, according to the American Addiction Centers. Behavioral therapies are among the most helpful for the healing process, along with professional and peer support through out the process.

Early Recovery

As your brain recovers from a drug addiction, the judgment and decision-making begins to recover as well, but this is not instantaneous. Early recovery is characterized by shifts in thought, emotion, physicality, and spirituality. In early recovery, your brain chemistry is still adjusting back to reach equilibrium. Certain factors that impact this process include:

  • the length of time you took the drug
  • the type of drug(s) you were on
  • the amount of drugs you took
  • the method of detox you completed
  • your ability to go to therapy and/or group meetings
  • mental health and general health status

It takes about 2 weeks , up to 18 months for the brain to heal from drug use. The healing process is also impacted by the food you eat, how much water you drink, exercising, and your immune system. (American Addiction Centers).

Major Life Changes

As you are going through the recovery process, especially in early recovery, you are already enduring a lot of major life changes— removing drugs from your life and learning a new way to live. As your brain and body are recovering from the impact of drugs and alcohol, it is not recommended to make any major decisions that can affect your life.
For example, some major life decisions that are best done later in recovery include: entering a romantic relationship, getting married, getting divorced, changing careers, moving, having a baby, launching any business ventures, and taking on any major responsibilities like a rigorous job.
When facing major life changes that depend on a decision, ask yourself if the decision is necessary or unnecessary; this will guide you to either put off the decision, or to follow our AC²E Method of decision-making to come to the best option.

Making Decisions

Major life decisions are not encouraged within the first year of sobriety, but life doesn’t wait for anyone. If you need to make a major life decision in early recovery, we developed a helpful tool to make the decision-making process safer and fool-proof. Our technique to decision-making in early recovery is called the AC²E Method.

Steps to making a decision using The AC²E Method:

1: Assess the situation with factual evidence

  • Do you have to make this decision right now?
  • Will it hurt you or help you to make this decision?
  • What are you choosing between?
  • What are the factors involved with making this decision?
  • What effects can come from this decision?
  • Are there any alternatives to this decision? What are they?
  • It is also extremely important to consider which facts are unknown.
  • 2: Consider and compare the pros and cons of each choice

  • Make a list for the positives and negatives for each choice.
  • What are the benefits and downfalls of choice A vs. choice B?
  • Make sure your list is thorough, and explores the short term and long term pro’s and con’s.
  • Are there any alternatives that you identified in step 1? What are the pros and cons to those alternatives?
  • 3: Consult a friend

  • Mostly in early recovery, an alcoholic or addict will call their sponsor to ask about any big decisions. A sponsor is the person you choose to bring you through the 12 steps of 12-step programs of recovery, like Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Gambler’s Anonymous, etc.
  • This is where a strong sober support network will come in, you need to have supports in your life that you trust in helping you make any big decisions in early recovery, people who will offer advice and support.
  • Get as many different opinions as you can during this step of the AC²E Method.
  • 4: Evaluate your decision

  • Take a look at the work you have already done to come to the best decision.
  • Is there anything you have overlooked in the process?
  • What data can you use to predict the outcome of your decision?
  • Before making the decision, ask yourself if this decision will help or hurt your recovery! This is the most important question when coming to a decision. Anything you put above your sobriety and recovery, you will eventually lose.
  • Make sure the decision you are about to make is informed, and if it is, choose your best option and make the decision!
  • More on the AC²E Method

    And that’s the full AC²E Method! This method is perfect for making sound decisions in early recovery, and through out the rest of your life. Before using the AC²E Method, make sure you’re using the process for big decisions, it’s not sustainable to be using this method to decide between choosing outfits in the morning or acting on your road rage, there are other tools to be used for lesser-impactful situations. Royal Life Centers is a comprehensive addiction treatment center that helps guests heal their mind, body, and spirit. Our holistic treatment approach spans across all of the programs we offer to treat alcohol and drug addiction. For more information about our programs, please click here for a list of our services.
    “American Society of Addiction Medicine.” ASAM Definition of Addiction, American Society of Addiction Medicine, 12 Apr. 2011, www.asam.org/quality-practice/definition-of-addiction.
    Carberg, Brian. “Making Positive Choices in Addiction Recovery.” AddictionCenter, AddictionCenter, 2 Oct. 2015, www.addictioncenter.com/community/making-positive-choices-in-addiction-recovery/.
    “Drug Abuse and Chemical Imbalance in the Brain: Dopamine, Serotonin & More .” American Addiction Centers, American Addiction Centers, americanaddictioncenters.org/health-complications-addiction/chemical-imbalance.
    “The Brain in Recovery.” Recovery Research Institute, Recovery Research Institute, www.recoveryanswers.org/recovery-101/brain-in-recovery/.
    “The Permanent Effects of Drugs on the Body.” American Addiction Centers, American Addiction Centers, americanaddictioncenters.org/health-complications-addiction/permanent-effects.
    “Will I Ever Get Back to Normal? Undoing the Damage of Drug Abuse.” Drug Rehab Options, American Addiction Centers, 2 Dec. 2018, www.rehabs.com/blog/will-i-ever-get-back-to-normal-undoing-the-damage-of-drug-abuse/.
    If you or someone you know is struggling with an addiction and needs drug rehabilitation, please call (877)-RECOVERY or (877)-732-6837 to speak with one of our knowledgable addiction specialists. Our team of specialists are available to take your call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Because We Care.

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